This issue is another selection of profiles from our tentatively named Guide to Irish Writers of Gothic, Supernatural and Fantastic Literature. The keen-eyed will spot one name that might seem out of place: Harry Clarke (1889-1931). Clarke, of course, was not a writer, but an artist who worked in watercolour, pen and ink, and stained glass. As an illustrator, Clarke put his indelible mark on literature of the macabre and fantastic. His best-known illustrations are those accompanying Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination (1919/23), though his illustrations for Andersen, Perrault, and Swinburne also bear hallmarks of the strange. So too do goblins and grotesques leer from the corners of his stained glass work. Writing in The Irish Statesman on Clarke’s illustrations for Goethe’s Faust, the poet A.E. was clearly taken with the artist’s power:
“Nothing in these drawings represents anything in the visible world: all come from that dread mid-world or purgatory of the soul where forms change on the instant by evil or beautiful imagination, where the human image becomes bloated and monstrous by reason of lust or hate, the buttocks become like those of a fat swine, and thoughts crawl like loathsome puffy worms out of their cells in the skull. Shapeless things gleam with the eye of a snake . . . Here the black night is loaded with corrupt monstrosities, creatures distorted by lusts which obsess them, which bloat out belly or thighs, suck in the forehead, make the face a blur of horrid idiocy or a malignant lunacy. We shiver at the thought that creatures like these may lurk in many a brain masked from us by the divine image.” (14 November 1925)
It is all the more pitiable that Clarke never illustrated an edition of Dracula—he was unable to come to an agreement with Bram Stoker’s estate. What we are left with is not only a remarkable body of work, but also hints to what might have been: other unrealised projects include Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal and Huysmans’ À Rebours.
Clarke is rightfully listed in Jack Sullivan’s Penguin Encyclopedia of Horror and the Supernatural (1986), and so I felt, given his impact on macabre literature, it was only proper to feature a profile of this remarkable artist among our own pages. Naturally, you’ll find a Clarke illustration on the cover of this issue, and his “Mephisto” can be found on the cover of Issue 6.
This issue also features profiles on George Croly—whose Salathiel may well have borne influence on Stoker’s Dracula (see also “Who Marvels at the Mysteries of the Moon” in The Green Book14)—and a much-anticipated entry on Fitz-James O’Brien, who is surely a pillar of Irish genre fiction; while Yeats and Lady Gregory invoke in their words the long shadow of the Celtic Twilight. As always, I hope you’ll discover writers who might be lesser known, like the Banims and the Barlowes, or those whose contributions to genre might be unexpected, such as the Longfords and Iris Murdoch. Whatever the case, I hope you find new and exciting avenues to explore.
A few years back I wrote a short piece on how we put together Lafcadio Hearn’s Insect Literature (2015) from a design point of view. There are often embedded design details of significance in our books—the sort of things you might not notice until they’re pointed out and the various meanings explained. With the imminent publication of The Fatal Moveby Conall Cearnach, I thought it might be a good time to write another such essay looking at how we designed this particular book.
Irish author F. W. O’Connell (1875-1929)—who often published as “Conall Cearnach”—was brought to my attention by Reggie Chamberlain-King, probably sometime in 2017. Chamberlain-King had been pitching to me Irish writers to consider for The Green Book’s ongoing profile series “Irish Writers of Gothic, Supernatural, and Fantastic Literature”, and Cearnach was among them. You can read the resulting biographical overview in Issue 11.
During his lifetime, Cearnach was known as the author of two Irish grammar books, A Grammar of Old Irish (1912) and Irish Self-Taught (1923), as well as for his broadcasts on 2RN, Ireland’s first radio broadcasting system. (It’s these broadcasts that I suspect formed the contents of Cearnach’s three essay collections.) But the primary reason for Cearnach being considered an Irish fantasist in The Green Book is for a slim collection of short stories he published in 1924: The Fatal Move and Other Stories (M. H. Gill & Son, Dublin). Chamberlain-King describes the stories as “ranging from the darkly macabre, to the speculative, to the absurd”. I had to track down a copy.
When the slim volume arrived—the first edition is only 96 pages—I was even more intrigued by the story titles: “The Vengeance of the Dead”, “The Homing Bone”, “Professor Danvers’ Disappearance” . . . I found among them a supernatural thriller, a locked-room mystery, a conte cruel, and even a “delightfully comic dystopia” in which Bolshevik Russia had taken over England, wiping out the English language. Eventually I reprinted “The Fiend that Walks Behind”, a Jamesian ghost story, in The Green Book 15, where it drew a favourable response. I grew to quite love this quirky little book, perhaps not a lost classic, but certainly a quirky gem of Irish literature, which I decided was worthy of inclusion in our 2021 publishing schedule. Naturally, Reggie Chamberlain-King provided the introduction, greatly expanded from his previous profile in The Green Book, and probably the lengthiest piece written about Cearnach to date.
So back to the book itself: the first edition copy of The Fatal Move that I managed to track down was complete with a somewhat grubby (and fragile) fawn paper wrapper. Depicted on the cover in green ink were two weary chess players, one slumped over their game board, both overseen by the disembodied head of an Edwardian beauty with red pupils—all this being an illustration from the title story.
While the name of the artist is neither listed in the book, nor in any bibliography I could find, my own copy bore two interesting inscriptions on the front endpaper. At the top, in black ink: “To the Artist with the Publisher’s Compliments, Dec. 1923”; below that, in red ink: “From Tom Grogan, as a specimen of his productions, le hárd-cion [with great affection]”. Certainly this established the identity of the artist, but begged the further question: Who exactly was Tom Grogan? A “Father Thomas Grogan” is registered at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art in 1919, and is a possible candidate, but apart from that the trail is cold. Any amateur art sleuths out there want to take up the challenge?
I noticed something else while putting together The Fatal Move. The eyes of the woman on the jacket are blank on all the other copies I was seeing for sale on the internet. Mine would seem to be unique with its crimson glare, which, until this realisation I had thought was part of the original design as opposed to added. Some of you might already have made the next leap in logic, but I confess, it took me a moment before I got there: the red ink with which Tom Grogan made his inscription is the same ink used on the jacket to enhance the eyes. In other words, the cover of my copy was embellished by the artist himself.
Usually when we reprint a book, I like to commission a new piece of art so as to modernise the edition—though always with sympathy to the text’s history, of course. But for The Fatal Move we decided to retain Tom Grogan’s original artwork, though not without a handful of minor alterations. First, you’ll notice that the letters in Conall Cearnach’s name are crowded together on the cover of first edition. I asked our designer Meggan Kehrli if she could fix this, which she did beautifully, rendering the author’s name more clearly. Next, we decided to print the image in a metallic green ink, which should give the jacket a striking look (Pantone PMS 8722C, for those who like knowing this sort of thing). The book isn’t back from the printer yet, but I hope it looks good. Finally, we decided, for our new edition, to retain Tom Grogan’s red eye embellishment, an indelible addition to my own original copy, now embedded in Swan River’s updated design. We hope Tom Grogan would approve.
As for the pattern we’re printing on the book’s case, Meggan lifted that from Cearnach’s essay collection The Age of Whitewash (1921). This also seems appropriate as Chamberlain-King wanted to include in The Fatal Move a selection of the author’s more outré non-fiction, hoping to give more insight into Cearnach’s life and milieu. Using the pattern from The Age of Whitewash is a subtle nod to this consideration.
And there you have it—a bit of insight into what goes into putting together the book as a physical object, readying the stories so that a new readership might discover them. I’m excited to see what the book will finally look like when it arrives back from the printer within the next few days. Our limited edition hardback edition will be the first time The Fatal Move has been reprinted since it’s first outing in 1924—nearly one hundred years ago.
So have you ordered a copy yet? Have you read Cearnach already? Or maybe there’s something else about this book you’d like to know more about? Drop us a line or leave your comments below.
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We can probably safely say that few could have guessed what 2020 would have in store for us. I haven’t quite decided yet whether or not I take comfort in the fact that this can be said at the start of any given year. Anyway, here at Swan River Press I had to adjust quickly: I started to work my day job from home last March, which then blurred daily into the evening hours that I put into the press. Time is a bit elastic in this room, and it isn’t uncommon to find myself wondering what day of the week it is.
Whenever I write one of these annual reviews, it seems that the most recent passing year is the “most ambitious yet”. This year feels no different, if only because most of my free moments—for better or for worse—were given over to Swan River. I suppose one must keep oneself distracted, right? I admit, I enjoy the indulgence in work. At least this sort of work.
But here we are at the end of a difficult year, and it’s time for me to take stock of what we’ve accomplished on the publishing front. I say “we” because, though it’s just been me in this room for the majority of the year, Swan River is far from just myself as you’ll quickly see.
So let’s start at the beginning.
Our first book of the year was the fourth instalment in our ongoing anthology series, Uncertainties, our showcase of new writing—featuring contributions from Britain, America, Canada, Australia, and the Philippines—each writer exploring the idea of increasingly fragmented senses of reality. This year’s volume was edited by Timothy J. Jarvis, and included an impressive line-up of stories from fourteen contemporary writers such as Lucie McKnight Hardy, Camilla Grudova, John Darnielle, Brian Evenson, and Claire Dean. I was particularly delighted to feature on the cover a painting by B. Catling, who we’ll return to in a moment. David Longhorn of Supernatural Tales had some kind things to say about the anthology: “[Uncertainties 4] has, for me, illustrated yet again the broad range of Gothic fiction, and more than hints at a genre revival in this century far more impressive than anything in the last. Perhaps this is because, like the Victorian era, ours is one of uncertain peace, irrational fads, scientific progress, and deeply unstable societies that are mirrored in confused personal identities and relationships. And people still like spooky stuff a lot.”
Lucifer and the Child by Ethel Mannin felt like one of our biggest discoveries of the year, something to be truly excited about: the first Irish edition of an overlooked novel once banned in this country. An atypical book from Mannin, Lucifer and the Child was originally published in 1945, then reviewed in the Irish Times as “a strange, but gripping book”. Our new edition of this extraordinary novel features an introduction by Rosanne Rabinowitz, and was given favourable notice in the Dublin Inquirer: “It is not surprising that this book was deemed unsuitable for 1940s Ireland. The allure of Lucifer and the occult would certainly have been deemed inappropriate, as would the depictions of female sexuality.” (Although no records exist that give reason, I personally suspect it wasn’t the occult themes that got the book banned, but rather the mention of abortion.) Despite the challenges it poses to conservative pearl-clutchers, this book was warmly received as evidenced by the many emails I got from delighted readers. The cover is by Australian artist Lorena Carrington—she did a wonderful job of depicting the dark faerie tale within its pages.
Our next title, Munky, allowed us not only to work with artist and novelist B. Catling RA, author of the Vorrh trilogy, but for the cover art the opportunity to team up with artist Dave McKean. This project started as a submission to Uncertainties 4, but after some consideration, we decided it stood better on its own. Munky is a quirky novella that illustrates an English town and its inhabitants, as ridiculous as they are quaint, evoking an atmosphere that “might be called M. R. James with a soupçon of P. G. Wodehouse and a dash of Viz” (The Scotsman). We had also arranged for this edition to be signed by both author and artist, making this book one helluva package. Once a book is published, I tend not to go back and read it (yet again). Not so with Munky. Over these past months I found myself picking it up on occasion to revisit Catling’s charmingly cracked world.
Our fourth book this year was also our fourth by Irish author Mervyn Wall: Leaves for the Burning, originally published in 1952. We’ve been championing Wall’s work for quite some time now: The Unfortunate Fursey (2015), The Return of Fursey (2015), A Flutter of Wings (2017), and in a few issues of The Green Book. A mid-century portrait of Ireland, Leaves for the Burning is rich in grotesque humour and savage absurdity, depicting a middle-aged public servant who works in a shabby county council sub-office in the bleak Irish midlands, mired in Kafkaesque bureaucracy and petty skirmishes with locals. Although we stray from our typical fantastical themes with this one, we hope you’ll still give it a chance. With an introduction by Susan Tomaselli, editor of gorse, we are proud to make available again Mervyn Wall’s great “half-bitter book”—as it was judged by Seán O’Faoláin—surely now just as relevant as it was over half a century ago. The cover art for this one is by Niall McCormack, whose work will be recognisable to those who read Tomaselli’s gorse.
Continuing with our “recovered voices” of Irish women writers of the supernatural, this year we published The Death Spancel and Others by Katharine Tynan. Research for this project started over three years ago—though you’ll recall we featured Tynan in Bending to Earth: Strange Stories by Irish Women (2019) and in various issues of The Green Book. Consisting of fifteen stories, seven poems, three appendices, and an introduction by Peter Bell, The Death Spancel is the first collection to showcase Katharine Tynan’s tales of the macabre and supernatural. It is also the only volume of this once-popular Irish author’s work currently in print, perhaps making this book all the more important. The Death Spancel was reviewed in Hellnotes by Mario Guslani to be “of remarkably high literary quality . . . a great collection recommended to any good fiction lover.” Brian Coldrick, who is quickly becoming one of our favourite artists to work with, did the cover for this one. You might recognise his work from the cover of Rosa Mulholland’s Not to Be Taken at Bed-time (2019).
The final hardback of the year was Ghosts of the Chit-Chat, edited by actor and scholar Robert Lloyd Parry. The book is as much an anthology of stories and poems as it is a work of scholarship. Lloyd Parry introduces each author with a short biographical sketch, building a portrait of those in the orbit of M. R. James, who debuted his own ghost stories on the evening of Saturday, 28 October 1893, Cambridge University’s Chit-Chat Club. Like many of our books, this one was long in the works. In addition to reprinting numerous rare and only recently discovered pieces, Ghosts of the Chit-Chat also features earlier, slightly different versions of James’s “Canon Alberic’s Scrap-book” (here titled “The Scrap-book of Canon Alberic”) and “Lost Hearts”. We also had a Zoom launch for Chit-Chat, and though it wasn’t recorded, we’ve got a video of Lloyd Parry reading Maurice Baring’s “The Ikon”. The volume was published on 8 December, and proved to be so popular that the already extended edition of 500 swiftly went out of print on 20 December, breaking some sort of record for us. Reception has been encouraging, with James scholar Rosemary Pardoe noting, “People who’ve missed out on it should be kicking themselves.” But don’t worry. We have plans for a paperback edition next year—sign up to our mailing list if you want advance notice.
We also published three issues of our journal The Green Book: Writings on Irish Gothic, Supernatural and the Fantastic. Issue 14, outstanding from 2019, was published simultaneously with Issue 15. Based loosely around the theme of memoir and biographical sketches, Issue 14 contained pieces by or about Dorothy Macardle, Fitz-James O’Brien, Rosa Mulholland, among others. Issue 15 was a departure from our standard practice: we decided to feature fiction, and so reprinted rare pieces by Conall Cearnach, Herbert Moore Pim, Robert Cromie, and others. Issue 16 featured ten entries from our (still tentatively titled) Guide to Irish Gothic and Supernatural Fiction Writers project, including profiles of Edmund Burke, L. T. Meade, Forrest Read, Elizabeth Bowen, and more. Our issues for 2021 are already coming together nicely.
So is anyone interested in the final tallies? I’ve got my nifty spreadsheets set up to spit out some figures. We published 8 new titles this year, totalling 1,584 pages, 2,950 copies, and 462,763 words.
Naturally we attended no conventions this year, either online or in person. I think the last might have been FantasyCon in Glasgow. But I look forward to seeing everyone again soon!
Perhaps the biggest Swan River development over these past twelve months was a long-mooted foray into paperbacks. We’ve dipped our toes in the water so far with Earth-Bound (Dorothy Macardle), The House on the Borderland (William Hope Hodgson), and Insect Literature (Lafcadio Hearn). We’ll be doing more in 2021, so it will be your chance to read some of our out-of-print books at a more reasonable price than what you’ll often find them for on the secondhand market. The reason it took so long is because I wanted to make sure we were doing paperbacks as best we could given the myriad challenges I had to consider and balance. This not only includes the books themselves, but also the behind-the-scenes admin work they create. But I’m happy we’ll been able to make available again some great stories. If you want to read more about our paperbacks, I wrote an entire blogpost about it.
Next I’d like to extend a warm welcome to Timothy J. Jarvis, who will be joining (actually, already has) the Swan River team. I’ve known and worked with Tim for a good many years now. I’ve always found both his fiction and writings on supernatural literature to be nothing but insightful; and I, as I am sure do many, value his generosity, passion, and friendship highly. If you want to check out Tim’s work, I suggest starting with his novel The Wanderer (2014). Tim also edited Uncertainties 4 this year, and his short fiction and articles can be found in innumerable anthologies. He is also co-editor of Faunus, the journal of the Friends of Arthur Machen (to which you should subscribe if you don’t already). Welcome, Tim!
Not forgetting the Swan River team, who make sure that I’ve not sat alone in this room for the year: Meggan Kehrli, who has once again done a superb job designing and laying out all our titles (including the various other ads and graphics I occasionally need); Jim Rockhill, who is always at the ready to provide proofreading and sage editorial input, always backed with his thoughtful scholarship; and Ken Mackenzie, who takes care of all our books’ insides, always patiently putting up with my dithering until things are just right. And finally, Alison Lyons and the team at Dublin UNESCO City of Literature, who continues to give their support, encouragement, and enthusiasm for our on-going work, allowing us to reach just a bit further than we might otherwise be able to.
Lastly, thank you to everyone who supported Swan River Press this year: with kind words, by buying books, donating through our patron programme, or simply spreading the word—I’m grateful for it all! If you’d like to keep in touch, do join our mailing list, find us on Facebook, follow on Twitter and Instagram. We’ve got some exciting projects for next year that I’m looking forward to sharing with you all. Until then, please stay healthy; take care of each other and your communities. I’d like to wish you all a restful holiday season, and hope to hear from you in the New Year!
Brian, here’s a question for the small press discussion; What recurring characteristics and factors do you find yourself weighing up when considering whether to publish a collection/ text? What leads up to that decisive moment? Cheers, Stephen J. Clark
Hi Stephen—At first I thought your question might be a relatively easy one to answer, and on some levels it is: I tend to know what I want to publish, generally. But the more I thought about it, the more I realised that there was quite a bit of unconscious thought and a few more overt goals that influence my decision-making.
So now your question. Generally I think one of the strengths of small press is the ability to specialise and often take greater risks than mainstream publishers. Notice how with some of the best small presses, you more or less know what you’re going to get—and even if what you get is unexpected, you can still be assured of quality. There are small presses that focus on poetry, contemporary or experimental literature, early twentieth century pulp fiction, or in the case of Swan River Press, the broader genre of supernatural fiction. This is a mode of literature I’ve loved for as long as I can remember. I touch on the beginnings of my affection for strange and uncanny in an interview conducted by Jon Mueller in 2017.
It might be obvious, but is probably worth stating, that the best small presses—those that publish books that dazzle and become the most treasured volumes in your collection—are usually driven by passion and a genuine love for what they publish. So on a basic level that decisive moment is when I have that feeling that I want to be a part of this book’s life. (Yes, books—the texts themselves—have lives. They’re conceived, written, and born; they grow through various editions. Some are seemingly immortal, some die quiet and early deaths, while others are resurrected to live their twilight years as our revered elders.)
Probably the best example of this is Swan River’s 2018 edition of The House on the Borderland by William Hope Hodgson. Hodgson’s novel, at least in our genre, is certainly a revered elder. With Borderland’s reputation already secure, there was probably no good reason for the Swan River Press edition to exist. It’s widely available in myriad cheap editions; hell, you can even read it online for free if you want. But it stands as one of my absolute favourite novels of the weird and cosmic. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read it—to say nothing of the multiple editions of this book that I’ve collected. My shelves hold a copy of the first UK edition, the Arkham House, not to mention a rake of twentieth century paperbacks. I love The House on the Borderland.
Maybe it was inevitable that the next logical step in my mania was to publish my own edition of The House on the Borderland—and I aimed to produce the best that I could: everyone involved with the Swan River edition has a fascination with and deep passion for the book. And I think the final result exudes this enthusiasm. It’s a book I can be proud of knowing that all contributors channelled as much affection into it as they could.
When it comes to contemporary writers, I’m driven by a similar sense of passion. I admit that I am not generally open for submissions (I don’t think I could handle the deluge—this will definitely be the topic of a future post). But I’m first and foremost a reader, so I have my favourites, people whose stories I enjoy, and with whom I want to work. While I don’t want to single out anyone in particular, all you need to do is have a look at the titles by our contemporary authors and I can, hand on heart, say I put the entirely of my passion behind their work.
Now the problem with passion is, left unchecked and unguided by reality, it can be ruinous. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, right? So I’ve developed over the years a sort of unofficial mission statement for Swan River Press that guides some of my publishing decisions. And with only a limited number of titles I can produce in a year, this can leave some hopeful writers disappointed (or maybe even feeling locked out of my roster). While the most books I’ve published in a year is eight, I seem to average about six, so let’s use that as our baseline.
There are a handful guides that I employ—often not successfully! But I do usually at least consider them. First, being based in Ireland, I am uniquely positioned to champion Irish fantastical literature. This is my mandate for publishing The Green Book, our twice-yearly non-fiction journal that focuses on writings about Irish Gothic, fantastic and supernatural literature. With two issues of The Green Book per year, that leaves four slots for hardbacks. Not a lot, huh?
The second guide in my mission statement is a reasonable mix of genders. Looking back over my bibliography, this is something at which I’ve failed. Of the 41 hardback books that I’ve published to date (end of 2019), only 10 are authored or edited by women. (Of the six books I have projected for 2020, only one was written by a woman.) I could do better in this area, and it’s something I’m aware of. We fare only slightly better with gender parity in our contemporary anthologies, of which there have been six. Thus far, 38% of contributors identify as women. This will increase overall with the publication of Uncertainties 4, edited by Timothy J. Jarvis, in early 2020.
Next up, I try for a mix of both reprints of rediscovered writing and publishing work by contemporary authors. Reprints are important because this is how great books are resurrected to find new audiences. Most of my reprints tend to be by Irish writers. For examples, there is Earth-Bound by Dorothy Macardle, The Unfortunate Fursey by Mervyn Wall, and Bending to Earth: Strange Stories by Irish Women. I feel all of these are important titles that are more than deserving of a second life. Conversely, it’s the duty of small press (but no less a pleasure) to nurture contemporary writers. Here you’ll find collections by Lynda E. Rucker, Mark Valentine, and Rosalie Parker. These are the people who are pushing supernatural literature into new and exciting places, and it’s the responsibility of Swan River Press to be a venue for this. Given that I can publish on average only four titles per year, I try for one of those to be an anthology of contemporary writing, such as our Uncertainties series. This gives me the opportunity to work with more writers than I would be able to with single-author collections.
Finally, I love a good anniversary—the celebration of works by some of my favourite writers. The aforementioned novel The House on the Borderland was published for the 100th anniversary of William Hope Hodgson’s death. Similarly, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s Green Tea, one of my favourite ghost stories of all time, celebrated 150 years last October, and so it was too good an opportunity to miss. Anniversary editions are among the trickiest as their publication dates are immutable. These are often the books that barge in and take their place, regardless of anything else. In 2014 we celebrated the 200th birth anniversary of Le Fanu, so that year Swan River published Dreams of Shadow and Smoke (an anthology written in tribute to the Irish gothic author and his work) and Reminiscences of a Bachelor, reprinting Le Fanu lost Gothic novella “The Fatal Bride”, which hadn’t seen the light of day since 1848.
Anyway, there you go. Publishing, for me, is driven by a deep passion for the work, but also guided a handful of professional goals. It’s often a balancing act: what I want to publish versus what I’m capable of publishing. But ultimately, when there’s a text that I come across, and I feel those stirrings of wonder and awe, I usually just know I’ll be publishing or looking for a way to publish it. And yet, despite my ambition, and the many books I would like to publish—I can only manage on average four titles per year (not including The Green Book). With a sense for the workload I can manage, taking on any more than this would result in a loss of quality—and that’s something I’m never willing to sacrifice. In the end, it ain’t easy. But I do my best always.
So I hope that answers your question, Stephen. If you or anyone else has any further questions or thoughts on deciding what to publish, please write in the comments below. I’d also be interested in reading comments from other publishers. How do you decide what to publish?
My inaugural post for this series of posts is here, if you’d like to read it. As always I can be contacted by email, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or in the comments below. Please share this post where you think is appropriate. I’m looking forward to hear from you!
Did you enjoy his post and want to support the press? Check our titles in print—you might find something interesting!
It looks as though 2019 was our most ambitious year to date. I had a suspicion this time last year that it might be and I wasn’t wrong. I had originally planned nine publications for 2019—alas, we only managed seven. But they’re seven of the best books we’ve done and results of which all involved can be proud. So let’s have a look at what we got up to these past twelve months.
The first book was a long time in coming: Bending to Earth: Strange Stories by Irish Women edited by Maria Giakaniki and Brian J. Showers. The anthology came together over many years, after much searching for tales that were not only good, but also infrequently reprinted, if at all. The original publications of these tales range from 1847 to 1914. There are names you might already be acquainted with, such as Lady Jane Wilde and L. T. Meade, and those that will certainly be less familiar to most, such as Katharine Tynan and Clotilde Graves. Darryl Jones, in his review of the this volume for the Irish Times, notes a particularly exciting aspect of this book: “Bending to Earth is full of tales of women walled-up in rooms, of vengeful or unforgetting dead wives, of mistreated lovers, of cruel and murderous husbands . . . ‘The De Grabrooke Monument’, a previously uncollected story by Charlotte Riddell [ . . . ] is a significant coup for Giakaniki and Showers.” Bending to Earth also marks the first time we worked with Dublin illustrator Karen Vaughan, who did an excellent job on the cover. We hope to work with her again sometime! You can read some more reviews and even an extract from the introduction if you wish.
On a related note, some of you will recall the “Irish Writers of the Fantastic” poster that I designed with Jason Zerrillo in 2015. The poster was later issued by Dublin City Libraries and Dublin UNESCO City of Literature—I hope some of you managed to get a copy. Well, Jason and I created another poster this year: “Strange Stories by Irish Women”. It’s meant as a sort of illustrative companion to Bending to Earth, showcasing portraits of each author in the anthology and featuring suitably unsettling quotes from each of their stories. I believe the library still has plans to issue this as a poster at some point. I’d love to see it in libraries across Ireland and beyond.
Our next book was Not to Be Taken at Bed-Time and Other Strange Stories by Rosa Mulholland. As an Irish author Mulholland, of course, also featured in Bending to Earth, so those who liked her story in that anthology may wish to explore her other gothic offerings. There is something of a faerie tale quality to Mulholland’s stories, or as David Longhorn pointed out in his review for Supernatural Tales, “Mulholland also draws strongly on her Irish heritage, and this gives the tales an extra dimension, that of the looming Celtic Twilight.” Not to Be Taken at Bed-Time was originally published by Sarob Press in 2013 and swiftly went out of print. With an introduction by the late Richard Dalby, I’m pleased to bring this title not only back into print, but also under Swan River’s wing. An extract from Richard’s introduction can be read here. Our edition was given a vibrant new cover by Irish artist Brian Coldrick. Fans of the ghost story will want to check out Coldrick’s Behind You: One-Shot Horror Stories, a marvellous collection of illustrations perfectly capturing that moment of a pleasing terror.
After Mulholland we published a new collection by John Howard: A Flowering Wound. This is the third book we’ve worked on with John, having previously published Written by Daylight in 2013 followed by The Silver Voices in 2014. Once again, David Longhorn of Supernatural Talesweighs in on this marvellous collection: “John Howard’s tales seemed to me like suitable summer reading. Many of the stories concern overlit urban landscapes not unlike those in the stories of J. G. Ballard, though the mood is very different . . . . There are also some stories that recall Arthur Machen’s approach to London, his insistence that the great metropolis is a place of magic and mystery.” The cover, perfectly evocative of John’s writing, was provided by our long-time collaborator Jason Zerrillo. If you’d like to read more about A Flowering Wound, check out this wonderful interview with John Howard conducted by Florence Sunnen.
The Mulholland book was not to be our only Sarob Press reprint this year. We also reprinted “Number Ninety” & Other Ghost Stories by B. M. Croker, originally published in 2000. This volume, like the Mulholland, was also long out of print, and being written by an Irish writer, we were keen to bring Croker’s stories to our audience. Unlike Mulholland, who wrote often about Ireland, the majority of Croker’s stories are often set further afield. In his review for Wormwood, Reggie Oliver writes: “[Croker’s] Indian stories evoke colonial life vividly and there is no imperial condescension towards the native characters who are treated with the same respect and sharpness of vision as her British ones . . . . What makes them all readable are the well-observed characters and settings which, besides India, include Britain, Ireland, Australia, the South of France and the American Deep South.” You’ll find Croker also represented in Bending to Earth; likewise, Richard Dalby has provided us with another excellent introduction. The expert cover for “Number Ninety” is by Alan Corbett, who also provided the illustration for The Green Book 2—a panel from his excellent Cork-set graphic novel The Ghost of Shandon.
Next up was quite a special project, an opportunity that could not be missed: a 150th anniversary edition of Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s Green Tea, which was originally published in Charles Dickens’s All the Year Round in October 1869. “Green Tea” stands as one of my favourite ghost stories; it’s the world at its cruellest, Le Fanu at his bleakest. To create something really special, we put together a great team: Matthew Holness (writer/director of Possum) is a long-time admirer of Le Fanu’s work, and provided an introduction to Reminiscences of a Bachelor back in 2014. We also called in Alisdair Wood, who provided illustrations for our edition November Night Tales by Henry C. Mercer. For Green Tea, Alisdair not only fully illustrated the story, but designed the cover as well. We then teamed up with Reggie Chamberlain-King of Belfast’s Wireless Mystery Theatre to produce a dramatic recording of Le Fanu’s masterful tale of paranoia and fear—you’ve got to hear it!
Finally, the book is rounded out by a pair of essays, written by myself and Le Fanu scholar Jim Rockhill, exploring the background and publishing history of “Green Tea”. The entire edition is signed by Holness, Wood, Rockhill, and Showers—and includes a facsimile signature of Le Fanu. Just to make the occasion even more special, I took the pile of signing sheets to Le Fanu’s grave here in south Dublin, where they rested for a while with a cup of strongly brewed green tea before I sent them off to the printer to be bound. Praised by Michael Dirda in the Washington Post as a “beautiful keepsake volume”, I’m confident our new edition of Green Tea is book Le Fanu himself would be proud of.
Our last book of the year arrived just a few short weeks before the holidays: The Far Tower: Stories for W. B. Yeats edited by Mark Valentine. Stories of magic and myth, folklore and fairy traditions, the occult and the outré, inspired by the rich mystical world of Ireland’s greatest poet, W. B. Yeats. The Far Tower is something of a tribute anthology, similar to The Scarlet Soul: Stories for Dorian Gray (2017), and Mark invited many of the same collaborators to the project, including cover artist John Coulthart, who really gave us something special this time. As the calendar draws to a close, I hope readers will enjoy this final offering of the year somewhere warm and relaxing. If you’d like, you can read Mark’s introduction as well!
Moving on to The Green Book. Some might have noticed that there was only one issue this year. This was quite unintentional, and one of the two books I had hoped to publish, but simply didn’t manage. However, The Green Book 13 did see the light of day last spring. Much like the previous two issues, issue thirteen contains a number of entries on obscure Irish writers of the fantastic, including Dora Sigurson Shorter, Cheiro, Oliver Sherry, Stephen Gilbert, and others. Issue fourteen will likely appear around the same time as issue fifteen, so don’t fret. Apologies for the delay!
The other book I was hoping to publish this year, but was unable to complete in time, is Uncertainties 4 edited by Timothy J. Jarvis. However, I am happy to say that the book is now finished, with a remarkable selection of stories, and will go to print in early 2020, complete with a fantastic cover from the painting “Night Beach” by B. Catling. This is the first time Swan River has worked with Catling, and won’t be the last . . .
A lot of publishing takes place in isolation, with me sitting here in Dublin at my desk tapping away at the keyboard: answering emails, updating accounts, editing, or simply reading. Occasionally I also have the opportunity to leave the house. This year Swan River Press attended Worldcon here in Dublin. It was my first Worldcon: slightly overwhelming, but loads of fun to meet people and talk about books. In October I made my way up to Glasgow for Fantasycon. Although smaller than previous years, it was still great fun to see friends. I’m very much looking forward to Stokercon in 2020—Scarborough is such a fun city to visit. I hope to see you all there!
Just because I’ve been asked lately, it does not look as though we’ll be hosting a Dublin Ghost Story Festival in 2020. The event is not permanently cancelled, so don’t despair just yet, but the idea does need to reach a certain momentum before I’m comfortable committing myself. The events in both 2016 and 2018 were great fun, guests of honour being Adam Nevill and Joyce Carol Oates, respectively. So I do hope we’ll be able to do another one when the time is right. If you want to keep abreast of any announcements, do join our mailing list or follow us on Facebook.
While much of publishing can take place in isolation, it is by no means a vacuum. There’s a reason Swan River books look so good. Jim Rockhill continues to proofread all of our volumes, offering his sharp eye and invaluable advice; Meggan Kehrli once again designed all our covers, keeping the look of the Swan River books uniform and exciting; and Ken Mackenzie, who typesets all our books, often a less noticed contribution, but one of great importance. I’d also like to thank Alison Lyons of Dublin UNESCO City of Literature for her constant support of fine literature.
Lastly, thank you to everyone who supported Swan River Press this year: with kind words, by buying books, donating through our patron programme, or simply spreading the word—I’m grateful for it all! If you’d like to keep in touch, do join our mailing list, find us on Facebook, follow on Twitter and Instagram. I’d like to wish you a restful holiday season, and hope to hear from you in the New Year!
Running Swan River Press can be a difficult job. The hours are long, usually after returning home from my day job (also weekends), and any financial risks are wholly my own. The victories are incremental, only often partly enjoyed with my attention fixed on what the next challenge might be. That’s why it’s nice to sit down with a cup of coffee, some homemade cranberry bread, and reflect on some of the successes of this past year. I’m always pleasantly surprised at how many there are.
The first book of the year was R. B. Russell’s Death Makes Strangers of Us All. I’ve known Ray for a good long time now, and where guidance is concerned, you can’t go wrong taking your cue from Tartarus Press. This is the third book Ray and I have done together. The first two were Ghosts (2012) and The Dark Return of Time (2014). Michael Dirda at the Washington Post seemed to like the book too, commenting that, “The disorienting title story of R. B. Russell’s superb Death Makes Strangers of Us All takes us into an ‘unreal city’ straight out of Kafka or Borges.” Not too shabby, huh? You can read more reviews here and an interview with Ray here.
The next book was a long-time in coming: William Hope Hodgson’s The House on the Borderland. This title is one of the two of which I own excessive multiple editions: the Chapman & Hall, 1908; the Arkham House, 1946; plus innumerable paperbacks, etc. The situation really is ridiculous, folks. I figured the logical next step would be to publish my own edition. And this I did, with my dream line-up consisting of Alan Moore (introduction), Iain Sinclair (afterword), John Coulthart (illustrations), and Jon Mueller (soundtrack) — everyone who participated shares a deep admiration for Hodgson’s masterpiece, which is really the only way to do a project like this one. Apart from some production difficulties (ugh), we produced a beautiful signed edition just in time for the 100th anniversary of Hodgson’s death at Ypres in late April 1918. Alan declared it the finest edition of The House on the Borderland that had ever been published. Some reviews can be read here, a wonderful discussion between John Coulthart and Jon Mueller is here, and if you want to listen to Jon’s soundtrack (and even buy a digital copy), you can do that here.
Next was up may well be our most unsettling book of the year: Nicholas Royle’s The Dummy & Other Uncanny Stories. Apart from his introduction to Joel Lane’s The Anniversary of Never (2015), this is the first time I’ve worked with Nick. I suffered a few sleepless nights due to him, but sure, it was worth it. The stories evoke the uncanny in the Freudian sense, and that cover by Bill Bulloch is most disturbing. Reviewer Mario Guslandi also liked the book: “Royle’s dark fiction is always worth reading . . . His storytelling is impeccable, his plots always interesting and his characters credible.” If you’re still not convinced, you can read an interview with Nick here. You need a copy if you don’t have one already.
Shortly after The Dummy, we published Rosalie Parker’s Sparks from the Fire. This book was special not only because I got to work with Rosalie again, but also because Rosalie’s collection The Old Knowledge (2010) was the very first hardback book we published, ushering Swan River into a new era. Publishers Weekly gave a favourable review to what is one of our most popular books of the year: “[Parker’s] treatment of the fantastic is often so light and ambiguous that stories in which it does manifest are of a piece with tales such as ‘Jetsam’ and ‘Job Start’, sensitive character sketches whose celebration of life’s unforeseen surprises will appeal to fantasy fans as much as the book’s more overtly uncanny tales. Parker proves herself a subtle and versatile writer.” Naturally, I think you should buy a copy. Here’s an interview with Rosalie conducted by Jason E. Rolfe and some more reviews.
And then there’s Uncertainties 3. I edited the first two volumes in 2016. This year, to keep things fresh, I handed the reins over to Lynda E. Rucker, whose collection You’ll Know When You Get There (2016) I hope you’ve already enjoyed. Lynda did a superb job in selecting stories, showing the broad range of what supernatural literature in all its guises can do. Do take a peek at the line-up! In addition to some great reviews, Joyce Carol Oates wrote in the Times Literary Supplement that, “Among the most memorable books I’ve read this year are [ . . . ] several slender, elegantly designed collections of short stories of the uncanny (Uncertainties Vol. 1, 2, 3) published by Swan River Press.” Okay, so she has a story in the anthology too, but still! In addition to all that, Robert Shearman’s “Bobbo”, Lisa Tuttle’s “Voices in the Night”, and Rosanne Rabinowitz’s “The Golden Hour” were chosen for Best British Horror 2019! I don’t know about you, but I’m very much looking forward to Timothy J. Jarvis’s turn as editor for Uncertainties 4 next year.
Then there are issues 11 and 12 of The Green Book, the former of which was excessively late this year. I apologise. Anyway, issue 11 boasts cover art by none other than Mike Mignola. This marks the second time we’ve worked with Mike — anyone remember the first? Issue 11 features articles on Lord Dunsany, plus the first serialised entries from A Guide to Irish Writers of Gothic, Supernatural and Fantastic Fiction, a long-term project I’m working on with Jim Rockhill. Issue 12 features more entries from the Guide, and our issues for 2019 will continue with these. The project has has proved an extremely enlightening one. I’m learning loads and my reading list has grown like you wouldn’t believe. Intrigued? Stay tuned.
The reason The Green Book 11 was delayed for so long turned out to be one of the absolute highlights of the year for me. The second Dublin Ghost Story Festival took place in late June. As in 2016, the festival sold out long before this intimate event and proved to be just as enjoyble as its predecessor. The guest of honour was Joyce Carol Oates (!!), and the opening night’s entertainment was provided by the great Reggie Oliver, who is surely one of the finest writers of the supernatural tale. Other guests included Helen Grant, Andrew Michael Hurley, V. H. Leslie, Rosalie Parker, Nicholas Royle, R. B. Russell, and Lisa Tuttle, each of whom brought with them their passion for the genre. Ladies and gentlemen, you’d better believe we indulged the entire weekend in all things ghostly and strange, with discussions, readings, signings, and a trade hall that could easily claim the entire contents of your bank account. There are some photos over on Facebook. So will there be another Dublin Ghost Story Festival? I’d love to know the answer to that too!
Sure, running Swan River Press isn’t always easy, but looking back over the year I can clearly see the late nights and hard work were worth it. Thank you again to those who have shown Swan River support through this past year. I raise my glass to everyone who read our books and shared them with friends, wrote reviews, attended the festival, supported us through patronage, or sent correspondence and kind words. And a special thanks as always to the Swan River team: Meggan Kehrli, Ken Mackenzie, and Jim Rockhill. They put in loads of work, and it’s due to their expertise that our books always look their best.
Oh! Before I forget, because I completely missed it during the year, October was our fifteenth anniversary — our first publication, a chapbook entitled “The Old Tailor & the Gaunt Man”, first saw print in 2003. I’m working on a bibliography, Fifteen Years of Swan River Press, which I’ll try to issue as soon as I can.
I promise you I’ve got a full publishing schedule ready to go for next year. Some titles I’m particularly excited about, so make sure you’re on our mailing list. It’s the best way to get the jump on all things Swan River. You can also join us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I look forward to hearing from you all again soon.
Our previous issue saw a fabulous array of reminiscences of Lord Dunsany — and also some contemporary assessments of his works — written by his Irish colleagues, including Yeats, Bowen, Gogarty, Tynan, A.E., and others. Issue 10 was fascinating to assemble and the process gave me a better understanding of and more insight into Dunsany’s literary standing in Ireland during his lifetime. If you’ve not yet had a look at our Dunsany issue, and you are in any way interested in this important author, I urge you to track down a copy.
The focus on Dunsany’s contemporaries in Issue 10 was an approach that evolved during research and production. However, during that time I also received a handful of modern appraisals of Dunsany and his work that I simply couldn’t fit into that issue. That’s why I’d like to start this instalment with just a bit more Dunsany.
First up we have Dunsany bibliographer Darrell Schweitzer’s career-spanning survey of the fantasist’s considerable body of work — where a new reader could start, what aficionados might have overlooked, and which titles can, perhaps, be left until later. Next, Martin Andersson, co-editor of the posthumous Dunsany collection The Ghost in the Corner (also reviewed in this issue), explores a lesser-known episode in Dunsany’s life: his Nobel Prize nomination. Finally, novelist Mike Carey offers an appreciation of Fifty-One Tales (1915), a collection not as widely celebrated as Dunsany’s other titles, but maybe one that should be given another read.
The remainder of this issue sees The Green Book in a little bit of a transition.
I’ve long had a penchant for bibliographies, indices, literary guides and encyclopaedias: I frequently take down from the shelf E. F. Bleiler’s Supernatural Fiction Writers (1983), wander the pages of Jack Sullivan’s Penguin Encyclopedia of Horror and the Supernatural (1986), and of course Neil Wilson’s Shadows in the Attic (2000) can keep me captivated for hours. I could go on . . .
Last year I commissioned a series of short articles for a book tentatively entitled A Guide to Irish Writers of Gothic, Supernatural and Fantastic Fiction. Over the past twelve months, Jim Rockhill and I have been working with a range of literary scholars, each exploring an Irish author that has in some way contributed to the broader literature of the fantastic. The results have been nothing short of captivating.
Therefore, in addition to the usual essays and reviews, I’d like to present, for the remainder of this issue, a selection of eight entries—some names you will recognise, others won’t be as familiar — but I do hope you’ll discover new writing to explore.
I’m sure you’ve seen the ubiquitous “Irish Writers” poster around Dublin. It depicts the usual suspects: Wilde, Yeats, Joyce, Beckett, et cetera. A while back the Irish Times published a reply to that poster, again entitled “Irish Writers”, but this time featuring only women (as the original featured only men). You can view both posters here.
Despite the strengths of these two posters, I felt there were still a few conspicuously absent faces.
As Swan River Press is Ireland’s only publishing house dedicated to what might broadly be termed “literature of the fantastic”, I felt it up to us to submit our own entry into the cavalcade of Irish literary posters.
As our treat to you this Halloween, I’d like to present Irish Writers of the Fantastic.
The poster was designed to give an overview of these worthy and often overlooked Irish authors. Some you will recognise, others you will not. Some, such as Bram Stoker and Lord Dunsany, have had a profound impact on international literature. Others, like Fitz-James O’Brien and Dorothy Macardle, will be more obscure. But each one is worth discovering or revisiting this Halloween season.
Ultimately I hope you will find something of interest among them. There are both men and women included in our poster. Writers who are world renowned and those who are less well known. There’s horror, fantasy, science fiction, supernatural, satire . . . You’ll find here writers from both the Republic and Northern Ireland, and their contributions to literature span the better part of two centuries.
However, as is the nature of lists, I hope you will disagree with this one. With any luck, you’ll be only too eager to point out someone that deserves to be included, but was not. And I hope you do. And when you do in the comments below, tell us why you think they should be included (and might they bump someone off the list?) Don’t grunt, elucidate! That second part is the most important bit. Because, above all, this poster is meant to get people talking about these writers . . . and then running to the nearest bookshop or library to read their works. In the meantime, Swan River Press will continue to lead the way in their rediscovery.
Anyone with a further interest in Ireland’s contributions to the genre might want to check out our twice-yearly journal The Green Book, which features commentaries, articles, and reviews on Irish gothic, supernatural, and fantastic literature. Until then . . .
So far The Green Book has been avoiding Mr. Bram Stoker. Not out of dislike or animosity, but for a journal that hopes to illuminate the lesser seen corners of Irish fantastic literature, I felt it was okay to let Stoker—our most prominent spokesman—wait patiently in the wings for the first few issues and allow others the spotlight for just a moment. But now that we’re six numbers in, it’s time to give Mr. Stoker his due and allow him to take centre stage. And so we pull back the red velvet curtains on this issue in grand style.
It’s not every day one discovers a forgotten story by Bram Stoker. But there it was, on page three of an equally forgotten daily newspaper. It appeared quite unexpectedly in the far right-hand column. There’s nothing quite like that rush of excitement one feels when making such a discovery in the otherwise subdued and dimly-lit microfilm room of the National Library. The thrill of reading that recognisable prose, filled with masculinity, adventurous seafaring, nefarious murder, teetotalling, a clever fiancée, and a ghost. Did I not mention it’s a ghost story too? It is, and also the second (known) story Stoker had ever published. No, it’s not every day that one discovers a forgotten story by Bram Stoker. But they’re out there, just waiting to be uncovered. And we’re happy to be able to share this one, which has lain dormant for nearly 150 years, with you.
We’re equally fortunate to have in this issue an introduction from David J. Skal giving some background and context to Stoker’s lost tale. As some of you may already know, Skal’s new biography of Stoker, Something in the Blood, will be out next year; certainly an event keenly anticipated by many. At the end of this issue, John Edgar Browning, himself no stranger to unearthing forgotten writings by Stoker, interviews Skal about Dracula, Stoker, and his forthcoming book.
So what’s in between this Stoker sandwich? Glad you asked. We’ve got an excellent essay on Lafcadio Hearn’s Irish influences from John Moran (to coincide with the Hearn exhibition running this autumn at the Little Museum of Dublin), a short reminiscence of the Great War by Lord Dunsany, a piece by Martin Hayes on the fraught relationship between Yeats and Crowley (hey, we’ve got to mark the Great Poet’s sesquicentenary somehow, right?), and finally an essay on the oddly overlooked mystic, visionary, poet, artist, pacifist, and statesman George William Russell (AE)—rightly described by Archbishop Gregg as “that myriad-minded man”—who I hope you will find as interesting as I do. In addition to all this, we have our usual crop of reviews, from which I hope you’ll find something to discover.
Finally, before I leave you in the capable hands of Mr. Stoker, I would like to direct your attention to the cover. Here you will find Harry Clarke’s “Mephisto” (1914) from Goethe’s Faust. Stoker’s employer, the celebrated actor-manager Sir Henry Irving, played Mephistopheles with great success throughout his career. It is a role Stoker saw him perform over seven hundred times. The infernal character, as portrayed by Irving, is thought to have influenced Dracula—but the astute reader will catch Stoker’s much earlier reference to Mephistopheles in the pages ahead.
And now, without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, I am pleased to present to you, Mr. Bram Stoker’s “Saved by a Ghost” . . .
On St. Patrick’s Day I decided to spend my time not drinking Guinness, but instead promoting Irish Writers of the Fantastic on both Twitter and Facebook. While I’m not convinced there is a “tradition” of Irish fantastic literature—that is to say a relatively unbroken chain of influence from one writer to the next—Ireland has consistently produced authors whose works have proved to be singular contributions of international importance. Unfortunately, some of these authors are given short shrift in Ireland—even those authors otherwise widely recognised abroad.
Here is the list that I compiled. It is by no means complete or definitive (and at one point in particular even quite self-indulgent). There is a comments section down there too, so no reason you can’t add to the list if you feel I’ve overlooked someone important.
And as a reminder, anyone who would like to learn more about Irish writers of the fantastic, I encourage you to check out The Green Book, a journal started specifically to explore these authors and their works.